KYOCERA: What is the most important …word?

By Gery L. Deer
Creative Director, Senior Writer

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” – Mark Twain

I often find myself explaining to associates or clients the importance of using the most precise wording in a presentation, advertisement or other marketing material. Words create a company’s message and establish a unique, public voice. A well-crafted message, no matter how insignificant it might seem, is vital to maintaining your business’s public image and credibility.

Even with a flashy website or a colorful brochure, if the wording is not spot-on, the intent could be lost completely and that will cost you sales. Recently, however, I was reminded how even the big boys can get it totally wrong.

A few weeks ago I was watching one of the cable news channels when a commercial came on for KYOCERA Document Solutions. The ad featured a string of vignettes on the theme, “What is the most important document …,” followed by video clips with related text that finished the sentence.

For example, one of the vignettes showed a doctor looking through a medical chart with the phrase, “…when information is everything.” Let me start by saying that I believe, in concept, this ad is brilliant. The message is clear, it is easy to follow, and designed to ‘soften’ the company’s image with American consumers, showing it’s accessibility with both business and individuals. Even the flow of the scenes and background guitar music interlaced with shots of the printing somehow really work to deliver the point.

KYOCERA Document Solutions Americas, Inc. advertisement screen shot. "What is the most important document ..." campaign missed the mark with this shot.

KYOCERA Document Solutions Americas, Inc. advertisement screen shot. “What is the most important document …” campaign missed the mark with this shot.

Unfortunately, all at once, that wonderful creativity grinds to a screeching halt, ruining the spirit of the message and diminishing KYOCERA’s credibility in one fell swoop. Here’s how the ad goes terribly wrong.

In one shot, a massive stack of file folders is shown in the foreground of what looks like a courtroom. Behind them, presumably seated at the defense table, is the accused with the overlaid text, “… to prove a man’s innocence.” Oops.

Yes, oops. “To prove a man’s innocence,” they say? Maybe you don’t see the problem, so let me enlighten you, and please keep in mind this advertisement was meant to target the American buyer. (See the accompanying screen shot and video link.)

I’m uncertain in what country that court room is supposed to be, but in America, although it may not seem so at times, a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, not the reverse. The burden of proof is on the prosecution and the state, not the defense. I can pretty much guarantee if you were the defendant, the wording of this phrase would mean everything to you. Additionally, the choice of phrase leaves the message flat and a bit weak compared to some of the others used in the piece.

Given the context, I believe that what they meant to say was, “…to defend a man’s innocence.” By changing the word, “prove” to “defend,” the phrase is now accurate and keeps to the point of the commercial, which is intended to impress upon the viewer the importance of documentation and how KYOCERA can help meet that need.

Drawing even more negative attention is the fact that in the entire one-minute commercial the courtroom piece is the only one with a static photograph behind the text, rather than an a video clip. Now notice in the still photo that the defendant seems to be a person of color (he appears Hispanic, but it’s uncertain) and now you have a clearly insensitive stereotype, along with a seriously poor choice of words.

Does this seem nit-picky? I don’t think so. With no spoken language in the piece, the words carry all the weight and the phrasing in each vignette is intended to complete the main thought of the message. It’s also just plain lazy creative work in an ad produced by a multi-million-dollar, internationally-known company, not a guy shopping his plumbing business on windshield fliers. They should know better.

After seeing the ad, I tried to contact Pete Hendrick, currently listed as the Vice President of Marketing at KYOCERA Document Solutions Americas,  in New Jersey. Assuming I was aiming for the right party, it’s no surprise I have had no response to my inquiries. Disappointing, since, from a business and image standpoint, this is an important issue, particularly for a company running an ad campaign designed to stress the significance of documentation.

In my mind, the words are what make the documents so valuable, particularly as portrayed in a court battle. Why wouldn’t the ad developers want that statement to be accurate and far more powerful than the way it’s currently shown? I hope that someone at KYOCERA eventually sees their mistake and corrects it, if for no other reason than to maintain the professional image of a company whose products are based on precision.

So, I suppose the question to KYOCERA’s marketing department is, “What is the most important …word?”

Watch the original full video here:

UPDATE – May 27, 2014:

The 2014 Kyocera ad was a grand improvement over last year’s version. The wording is spot-on and the imagery is perfect. Well done! Here’s the updated ad – maybe someone heard us?